Duncan Keith turned out to be the Blackhawks’ unlikely hero Sunday in overtime.
Keith carried the puck from his own end, beating Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon in the process, and lifted the Hawks to a 2-1 victory against Colorado at the United Center to keep their playoff hopes alive.
After falling onto his side, the 35-year-old defenseman jumped back onto his skates and celebrated by raising his arms above his head and screaming with his eyes wide open.
“I don’t score too many overtime goals, but MacKinnon was coming down, and I’m just trying to not get embarrassed there,” said Keith, who has scored only 17 game-winning goals in 14 seasons. “I just tried to slam it at the net as hard as I could. It hit the net, and luckily it went in.”
The Hawks knew how vital this weekend was for their playoff aspirations. So with the score tied in the third period, they were firing on all cylinders and outshot the Avalanche 15-3.
“I’m sure everyone knows that we would like them to not get any more points, but overall we just wanted to win the game,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I really liked how we responded.
‘‘We found a different level, a lot of pressure on the puck, held the puck, forced them to play D-zone, defended really well, so a good performance.”
Goalie Corey Crawford, who was in net Saturday in Denver, had another outstanding game, stopping 19 of 20 shots.
“[Crawford has] always been one of our best players, if not our best player,” Keith said. “When Corey’s in net, we know there’s a chance we’re going to win. We know he’s going to make those big saves. He made them last night, and he made them again tonight.
‘‘There’s not too many easy ones that ever go in throughout the course of the season on him, so he was big for us tonight.”
The Avs’ lone goal by Alexander Kerfoot came when they had a two-man advantage in the second period. But forward Artem Anisimov made up for that goal with a power-play goal of his own.
Anisimov’s goal was a sigh of relief for the Hawks’ sputtering power play. After producing at a 40 percent clip for several weeks in December and January, the Hawks were 1-for-25 in the previous 11 games before his goal in the third period.
With the victory, the Hawks trail the Avalanche by five points for the second Western Conference wild-card spot. The Hawks are also three points behind the Coyotes and Wild with a game in hand.
Colliton admitted that it’s hard not to follow the standings when the race is this close.
“We’re aware, obviously,” Colliton said of the standings. “Everyone looks at the scores. But we’re in the position where we just have to focus on right here, right now. Focus on [the next] game, win one game, and the other stuff will take care of itself. We’ll at least give ourselves a chance.”
The Hawks have only seven games left over the next week and a half. They’re embarking on another trip out west and play the Coyotes on Tuesday in Arizona. Once they return, they have a brutal final leg to close out the season against the Jets, Blues, Stars and Predators.
“We’ve done a good job of winning some hockey games to have the privilege of playing in big games as we are now,” Colliton said. “We have to win a few more to stay in it.”